The MEMIC Group announced Tuesday it will provide $1.5 million to the University of Southern Maine and help the institution leverage an additional $1.5 million in matching gifts for an endowed chair named in honor of the insurance company’s founder.

MEMIC’s donation, which will be distributed in an annual amount of $300,000 over the next five years, will be placed in the newly established MEMIC John T. Leonard Endowed Chair in Risk Management and Insurance – only the second endowed chair since USM was founded in 1878.

USM spokeswoman Danielle Vayenas said that MEMIC, whose corporate offices are in Portland, is committed to contributing $1.5 million over the five years and will work with USM to leverage its commitment to raise an equal amount to fully endow the position at $3 million.

The endowed chair funds will double the capacity of USM’s Risk Management and Insurance program of study, which was established in 2008. Graduates have gone on to secure high-paying jobs at about 40 different insurance companies throughout the region, with MEMIC being the largest single employer of USM graduates.

The workers’ compensation insurer, which was founded in 1993, said it made the commitment to support the USM program to honor its outgoing founder and chief executive officer, John T. Leonard. Michael Bourque, who has been with MEMIC for 22 years, will replace Leonard in September.

“As the first and only President and CEO of MEMIC, John Leonard turned a company that had no assets except for a $500,000 line of credit loan into a $1.3 billion company with offices all the way down the East Coast,” David M. Labbe, chairman of MEMIC’s board of directors, said in a statement. “John has built a great company that not only serves employers here in Maine by driving down the overall cost of workers’ comp, but is also contributing mightily to our economy as an important employer in the region.”

Labbe said that as the company continues to grow, it will need to hire more people who have an educational background in risk management.

The insurance industry is an important economic engine, providing more than 12,000 good-paying jobs in Greater Portland with more than $1 billion in compensation in Maine in 2015, according to USM and MEMIC.

“We’ve had a successful partnership with John Leonard and MEMIC over the years addressing issues of workforce development,” USM President Glenn Cummings said in a statement. “I look forward to future innovative endeavors. John is known in the insurance industry as a great supporter of education. We believe this endowed chair and the benefits that will accrue from it are perfect ways to honor John’s legacy to Maine.”

“Now is the time to invest in the next generation in this industry,” Bourque said. “These are good jobs and the industry is poised to grow here in Maine.”